Davidson (11-4, 5-0 SoCon) at Appalachian State (7-8, 3-2 SoCon), 2 p.m.
When Davidson and Appalachian State get together on the hardwood, it's going to be a heated, physical contest. The two rivals always seem to leave everything on the floor, and when the Wildcats roll into Boone, N.C., it always seems to bring the best out of the football-first fans of the Black and Gold.
The atmosphere on Saturday afternoon inside the Holmes Convocation Center will probably be as close as it will get to how it is on fall Saturdays just up Stadium Drive to Kidd Brewer Stadium for football games in terms of noise, relatively speaking.
The noise level should be good and the two teams on display have a lot to offer, as both teams enter this early-season inter-divisional clash fighting atop their respective divisions in the Southern Conference.
ASU comes into the contest having won three of its last four since the flip of the calendar, while the Wildcats have won five of their last six, including four straight, entering Saturday afternoon's showdown between the two league rivals. Appalachian State has taken the last three games in the series between the two teams, including a 74-66 win last season.
Saturday's meeting will mark the 35th all-time meeting between the two clubs, with Davidson holding a narrow 19-15 all-time series edge.
Davidson got an 88-67 win over Western Carolina on Thursday night to help out Appalachian State's cause in the North Division race. Davidson had 18 assists to only four turnovers in the win over the Catamounts. Teams aren't going to lose many games when that is the case. Meanwhile, Appalachian State was able to grind out a 56-50 win over Furman at the Holmes Center.
Appalachian State needs to treat this game as a proving ground, and this game becomes critical from a confidence standpoint if the Mountaineers want to be a major player in the league race this winter.
The Wildcats have used the same intangibles to get victories this season as they did during the Stephen Curry era. It has taken a couple of years to fully reload to where it is a league title contender again. After all, the Wildcats bowed out in the opening round of the league tournament each of the past two seasons.
The Wildcats have used the same starting five virtually all season and Saturday afternoon's clash with Appalachian State should not offer a change in that regard. The Wildcats have the best frontcourt tandem in the Southern Conference coming into Saturday, as both Jake Cohen (13.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and D'emon Brooks (15.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) continue to be the go-to-players in the paint for Davidson.
Cohen, who needed 13 points to reach the 1,000-point milestone coming into Thursday night's contest, so he proceeded to go out and score the first the first 13 points of the game en route to his 26-point effort, building nicely off his Southern Conference Player of the Week citation of last week.
Cohen is connecting on 48.9 percent from the field for the season, ranking 12th in the Southern Conference coming into Saturday afternoon's clash with Appalachian State. As a defensive presence this season, Cohen ranks third in the Southern Conference in blocked shots this season.
Brooks has led the Wildcats in scoring this season, and has come into his own in his second season in the program. Brooks is one of the better athletes in the league, and though a little undersized, Brooks plays much bigger than his 6-5 frame because of that athleticism and power which he possesses.
He comes into Saturday's clash having put forth a solid effort against Western Carolina on Thursday, however, did struggle shooting the basketball just a bit, going just two-for-11 from the field and finishing well below his average with only eight points on the evening. Brooks tallied eight points on three-for-six shooting from the field in Davidson's 74-66 loss to Appalachian State last season at Belk Arena.
Davidson's trio of guards might also be the league's best conglomeration of talent, at least in the starting rotation, that the Southern Conference has to offer in 2011-12. The anchor of that talented three-headed monster is junior point guard Nik Cochran (11.9 PPG, 3.2 APG).
It took Cochran a couple of years to find his footing, but now that he has, he's ready to place his name alongside former greats Chris Alpert, Ali Ton and most recently, Jason Richards, among an elite class of point guards that have suited up for the Red and Black under veteran head coach Bob McKillop.
Cochran enters Saturday afternoon's contest tied for eighth in the league in assists-per-game, averaging 3.2 helpers per outing. Cochran is also Davidson's best perimeter shooter, knocking his triples down at a 45.1 percent clip (22-of-53). His 22 threes this season rank second on the team.
Rounding out the starters in the Davidson backcourt on Saturday afternoon will be wing guards J.P. Kuhlman (12.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and Tom Droney (4.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG). Kuhlman, a preseason All-Southern Conference selection, currently ranks third on the team in scoring and maybe the team's top on-the-ball defender.
Kuhlman enters the contest with a team-leading 16 steals this season, and is coming off a 12-point effort in the win over the Catamounts last time out.
Droney rounds out the starting five for McKillop, and like his backcourt teammate Kuhlman, plies his trade as one of the team's top defenders. In stature and tenacity, Droney resembles former Wildcats defensive bastion and all-around scrapper Max Paulus-Gosselin.
McKillop knows he needs players like Droney if the realization of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years is to become a reality.
Davidson has some reliable role players that add solid depth off the bench, such as Clint Mann (5.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG), Chris Czerapowicz (9.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and Tyler Kalinoski (5.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG). Mann has good size and strength, and the former Iowa State Cyclone has provided tremendous court savvy and effort off the bench all season for the Wildcats.
Czerapowicz has settled into more of producer in terms of scoring this season, as opposed to his inconsistencies in that department in his rookie season with Davidson last year. His 29 three-point field goals lead the team, and he is one of the deadliest long-range shooters in the league.
Kalinoski adds even more depth to an already talented backcourt, and the native of Overland Park, Ks., has provided a solid compliment to both Kuhlman and Droney at wing guard coming off the Davidson bench this season.
Kalinoski has reached double figures four times this season, with his latest of those double-figure efforts coming in last week's 29-point rout of UNC-Greensboro, as he posted 11 points in that win. He scored a career-high 16 points in the season-opening win over Guilford.
As a team, Davidson comes in leading the Southern Conference in scoring offense (79.3 PPG), while ranking 10th in the Southern Conference in scoring defense (70.3 PPG). Davidson is connecting on 44.5 percent of its shots from the field to rank third in the league in shooting percentage, while shooting 33.2 percent from three-point range to rank third in the league in three-point field goal percentage.
Defensively, Davidson is allowing teams to shoot 44.6 percent from the field to rank seventh in the league in field goal percentage defense. Finally, the Wildcats' opponents are connecting on 33.2 percent from three this season, ranking Davidson sixth in three-point field goal percentage defense.
Appalachian State comes into Saturday afternoon's matinee being led by Omar Carter (13.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Jamaal Trice (10.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG), and they are the lone two players averaging in double figures this season for the Black and Gold. Carter was the preseason league player of the year, but struggled a bit in his last outing, as he posted just five points in the 56-50 win over Furman.
Carter had a big outing against Davidson last season in leading the Mountaineers to a 74-66 win over the Wildcats. It was Carter that posted 25 points on nine-of-17 shooting from the field, one-for-three from three-point range, and six-of-nine from the charity stripe.
It was one of Carter's signature performances in his two seasons in a Mountaineer uniform. Carter is versatile in that he can either play in the backcourt or in the front court for the Mountaineers.
It was Trice's lay-up with 35 seconds remaining on Thursday night that allowed Appalachian State to take a two-possession lead late and ultimately proved to be the game-winning basket in the 56-50 win over Furman. He finished on the cusp of double figures on Thursday night, finishing with nine points in the six-point win over the Paladins.
Trice, a 6-6 guard from Los Angeles, posted his best performance of the campaign against East Carolina in an Appalachian State loss, as he scored a career-high 27 points.
Others expected to start in the backcourt on Saturday afternoon against the Wildcats will be point guard Mike Neal (6.2 PPG, 2.2 PPG, 42 assists) and wing guard Tab Hamilton (8.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG). Neal will run the point on Saturday afternoon against the Wildcats, and he has adjusted nicely since becoming head coach Jason Capel's starting point guard several games ago.
Neal is coming off a strong performance in the win over Furman the last time out, as he posted a team-leading 15 points, having connected on five-of-nine shots from the field, while going two-for-four from three-point range and grabbing five boards. Neal's 15 points against the Paladins matched a career-high previously established last month in a game at North Carolina.
Neal also got it done on the defensive end for the Mountaineers against the Paladins, recording three thefts in the contest.
Hamilton has proven to be one of team's top perimeter shooters as of late, and is connecting on 40.0 percent (20-for-50) of his downtown shot attempts this season. Hamilton saw his scoring cool off a bit against the Paladins, after posting a game-high 22 points in the 65-63 loss at Chattanooga, as he posted only three points in the victory.
Rounding out the expected starting five for the Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon will be senior center Andre Williamson (9.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG), who might be the team's MVP to this point in the 2011-12 campaign.
Williamson's athleticism has once again proven to be a vital asset to Capel's club this season, as he enters Saturday's proceedings leading the Southern Conference in blocks (1.6 BPG, 24 blocks).
Williamson garnered Southern Conference Player of the Week honors last week, and he will matchup with the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week, Jake Cohen, in a battle between two of the league's top centers.
This, in my opinion, will be one of the keys to the matchup. Williamson is going to be asked to work a little harder than he normally is, as a result of Cohen's ability to step out and shoot the three.
Appalachian State has a relatively deep bench, although the Mountaineers have been made a little thinner with a suspension to Ike Butts (7.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and with Rodney Milum (9.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG) having returned home to deal with family issues. Still, there is depth and one of the unsung heroes of the 2011-12 season for Appalachian State has been Nathan Healy (3.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG).
With his 12 points in the win over Furman, Healy, a player noted more for his hustle and defense than his scoring, has posted double figure scoring efforts in two of his last three outings.
Joining Healy off the bench will be reserve point guards G.J. Vilarino (3.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and Mitch Woods (1.2 PPG, 0.9 RPG), along with Brian Okam (0.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG), who provides needed support in the post.
As a team, Appalachian State enters Saturday's matinee averaging 66.5 points per game to rank seventh in the league in scoring offense. The Black and Gold has surrendered 69.0 points per game to opponents this season to rank sixth in scoring defense.
The Mountaineers are connecting on 43.6 percent of their shots from the field this season to rank sixth in team field goal percentage, while shooting the ball at a 36.1 percent clip from three to rank second in the Southern Conference.
The Mountaineers are allowing opponents to shoot 43.6 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three on the season to rank, fifth and fourth in the league, respectively, in the two aforementioned defensive categories.
Final Score Prediction: Appalachian State 80, Davidson 77 (Upset Special)